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Two Die in Utah Bombings That Appear Linked

October 16, 1985|BILL CURRY and JOHN DART | Times Staff Writers

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A financial consultant and the wife of his former business associate were killed Tuesday in separate, but apparently related, explosions that rocked a downtown office building and a suburban home.

Police said an electrically triggered bomb exploded in the arms of Steve Christensen at about 8:15 a.m. outside his sixth-floor office. A witness told police that she earlier saw a box outside Christensen's office and that it evidently went off when he picked it up.

Christensen, 31, formerly worked with J. Gary Sheets, whose home in suburban Holladay was the site of a second explosion three hours later.

Similar Package

Police said Sheets' wife, Kathy, died when she picked up a similar package on her front porch. Authorities said Sheets was at work when the blast occurred.

Sheets owns Coordinated Financial Services. Business acquaintances said on Tuesday that CFS has been incurring heavy losses, and, according to the Utah Department of Business Regulation, three officers, including Christensen, resigned last summer.

Police said they are investigating the possibility that CFS' business problems may have been a factor in the bombings. But Salt Lake City Police Chief Bud Willoughby said he did not rule out a religious motive.

Christensen was in the news in 1984 when it was learned he had purchased a letter written in 1830 by Martin Harris, who was a close associate of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith. In that letter, Harris had written that Smith told him that a "white salamander," which turned into an old spirit, rebuffed Smith's first attempt to obtain gold plates that were later allegedly translated into the Book of Mormon.

Religious Controversy

The letter was controversial because the official Mormon Church story of the gold plates, based on accounts by Smith in the 1830s, was that an angel named Moroni had this role--not a salamander, a popular figure in legend and folk magic.

The discovery, in connection with other new findings, has raised new questions about Smith's accounts of the church's origins.

A friend of Christensen's, architect Allen Roberts of Salt Lake City, said Sheets helped Christensen finance the study of the "salamander" letter by a three-man research team. Like Christensen, Sheets is a bishop (equivalent to a pastor) in the church. They also had plans to commission a book, but the idea was later dropped.

The document was announced last spring to be genuine by leading Mormon researcher Dean Jessee. About the same time, Christensen donated the document to the church, which thanked him.

Bill Curry reported from Salt Lake City and John Dart from Los Angeles.

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